Heraldry in Ireland, part 6. Modern day heraldry.

O'Neill chieftain circa 1680

When Edward Mac Lysaght was appointed to the newly created position of Chief Herald of Ireland in 1943 he also became head of Genealogy for Ireland and the old office of Ulster King of Arms in Dublin became the Genealogical Office, which is now part of the National Library of Ireland. Just as Scottish Clans share a common bond and crest, so Irish Septs share a common ancestor and common bloodlines. Edward Mac Lysaght set

about recording the principal Irish Septs and illustrated their Coats of Arms in part three of Mac Lysaght’s Irish Families. The essay on Heraldry that accompanies it is fascinating because Mac Lysaght was in the unique position of defining the rules of modern Irish Heraldry. Having the same surname as a sept is not enough to bear the sept’s Coat of Arms. If you can prove that your ancestors belonged to the sept , or you can show decent from somebody that bore the Arms historically ( and therefore by right of blood), irrespective of how many generations had passed, then the Coat of Arms  “ may be displayed without any impropriety”. If you want to bear the Arms with recognized authority, you can seek a Confirmation of Arms from the Chief Herald of Ireland.

Since Ireland’s Independence in 1922 the old Gaelic Septs have been reforming. By the Tudor period ( 1485 - 1603 ) much of Ireland beyond the Pale ( the area surrounding Dublin ) was still ruled by local chieftains. Many were of ancient Gaelic descent but  some had been displaced by Norman families who had arrived from France but had adopted Irish ways. In the ensuing century however the Gaelic order was destroyed . Some chieftains submitted to the English in exchange for titles from the Crown, others fled to France and Spain in what became know as the flight of the Wild Geese. Many who resisted the English had their land taken forcibly and were impoverished and fell into obscurity. The descendants of chieftains, however, were often remembered and recognized by descendants of their Septs, on an unofficial basis though as they had no legal function. In 1956 under Edward Mac Lysaght the Genealogical Office started tracing the senior male-lineal descendants of the last officially inaugurated 16th or 17th century Gaelic chieftains. Tracing the true chieftains was not an easy task, but eventually the following were found and officially recognized as Chiefs of the name.

v     O’Brien of Thomond

v     O’Callaghan

v     O’Connor Don

v     MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin

v     MacDermot Roe

v     O’Donnell of Tirconell

v     O’Donoghue of the Glens

v     O’Donovan

v     Fox

v     MacGillyduddy of the Reeks

v     O’Grady of Kilballyowen

v     O’Kelly of Gallagh and Tycooly

v     O’Morchoe

v     MacMorrough Kavanaugh

v     O’Neill of Clannaboy

v     O’Toole of Fer Tire

A further seventy 16th century chieftains were identified using state papers and other old records and in most cases senior descendants could not be traced.

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